04/07/2004 11:00PM

A B Noodle looking cool and calmer at age 5


SAN MATEO, Calif. - The home team may be tough to beat in Saturday's $75,000-added Miss America Handicap at Bay Meadows.

Locally based A B Noodle will be the highweight in the 1 1/16-mile turf race. She carries 117 pounds, one more than local arch-rival Hooked on Niners, in the field of 10.

After a disappointing 4-year-old season, the 5-year-old A B Noodle is back at the top of her game with two wins in addition to a strong third-place finish in the Grade 3 Brown Bess Handicap at Golden Gate Fields this year.

As a 3-year-old, A B Noodle won three stakes races over the turf course here.

Despite her success at 3, A B Noodle was becoming a nervous wreck, so her trainer, Chuck Jenda, gave her time off. The layoff seemed only to worsen things for her, but Jenda's patience finally paid off.

"We just try to keep schooling her and schooling her," Jenda said of daily trips to the paddock. "You'd feel sorry for her in the paddock. She was sweating bullets and shaking like a leaf."

A B Noodle has finally turned a corner.

"She's getting older and wiser," Jenda said.

And she is not leaving her race in the paddock and post parade.

She still has speed and has won a pair of allowance starts on the dirt in wire-to-wire style this year. In the Brown Bess, she actually rated, and, although she finished third, she impressed and pleased Jenda "because of the way she rated."

Jenda said that although A B Noodle will not rate off a a relatively slow half-mile, "if they go too fast, she'll sit there. She wasn't ratable before."

A B Noodle could face pace pressure from Hippogator and Lacrystal Classic but figures to get good trip whether on the lead or sitting just off it. Then it becomes a question of holding on in the stretch.

That's when Hooked on Niners could make her presence felt. She finished second, ahead of A B Noodle, at the distance over a soft turf course in the Brown Bess. She was second in both of A B Noodle's main-track victories.

"A B Noodle got us a couple times, but this time it's our distance and footing," said William Morey Jr., trainer of Hooked on Niners.

Frisco Belle, like A B Noodle, became a stakes winner at age 3 but is winless this year as a 4-year-old. She is coming off a third-place finish in the Sun City Handicap at Turf Paradise and will appreciate the firm course she should get.

"She had a rough start and didn't get away good, and things didn't happen her way," said her trainer, Greg Gilchrist, of the Sun City. "She's good to go here."